Opera was a well established European form which came to
America in the late eighteenth century. By the late nineteenth
century it had become the dominant entertainment and jousting place
for prestige among the upper classes in New York. The old guard Academy
of Music vied with the new money supporting the Metropolitan Opera, offering
extraordinary salaries to divas from home and abroad. The Metropolitan Opera
eventually prevailed and its superstar casts were recorded by the Met librarian,
Lionel Mapleson, wielding an ancient cylinder machine in the wings or
on a catwalk high above the stage.
These early recordings captured voices of the divas of the day such as Emma Eames,
Johanna Gadski, Lillian Nordica, and Marcella Sembrich, who would soon become famous
to a wider audience thanks to the development of the phonograph. Not all the stars were
that fortunate. The Mapleson cylinders give us, for example, our only aural glimpse
(however poor) of the famed tenor Jean DeReszke in operas by Richard Wagner and Giacomo Meyerbeer.